The power to forgive others is one of the most compelling things about Christianity that should cause all thinking people to pause and ponder.
You may have dismissed Christianity because you thought it was a bunch of Jedi mind tricks deluding the simple-minded. If that were true, I would do the same thing. But Christian faith is not a blind faith. There are many compellingly rational reasons for believing. Each reason we discover is like a bread crumb that is left there to lead us a little closer to home.
Later in 2019 you might want to pause and ponder the irreducible complexity of your genetic code, your moral compass, or the eye-witness nature of the New Testament documents.
But today we want to consider the power that the Christian faith gives people to forgive others.
To understand this, it helps to look at some of the claims that Jesus made about himself. One of the claims he made about himself was that he had the power to forgive our sins.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus encounters a prostitute. Luke calls her a “woman who has lived an immoral life” and Jesus tells her point blank “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?‘ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace'”
This offer of forgiveness is for prostitutes, tax-collectors and everyone else. In fact, when his followers begin to preach around the Mediterranean world, they are quoted as saying, “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
This forgiveness is something we do not often think about because we feel we are pretty good people. But personal forgiveness is one of the gifts of having faith in Jesus. To feel forgiven by God is a great relief that brings peace to people’s hearts this time of year. It is this personal experience that gives true Christians the power to also forgive the people who have wronged them.
One of the worst stories in the news a couple of years ago was the story of Dylan Roof. Dylan was a young white man who killed nine members of a Bible Study group in South Carolina at a historic black church. When his initial hearing came up before the judge, many of the family members were there.
But shockingly, instead of anger and rage, these family members of the victims expressed forgiveness. This was a radical and beautiful example of how Christian faith gives people the supernatural ability to forgive others who have hurt them in the most painful ways.
The Huffington Post, in their article “Victims’ Families Meet Dylann Roof” reports that Nadine Collier, the daughter of victim Ethel Lance, said to Roof
“I forgive you, I will never talk to her ever again, never be able to hold her again. I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”
Alana Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, also spoke to the suspect.
“Hate won’t win,” she said. “My grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love.”
If we are to take a scientific approach to faith, then we must wrestle with how to account for data like this. Alana Simmons and Nadine Collier were quoted by a reputable news source saying these things. How do we account for their strange reaction to this tragedy?
How can we explain their reaction in the most simple and straight forward way?
The most straightforward explanation is that it was their faith. The power to forgive Dylann came directly from their own personal experience of Jesus forgiving them.
They were living out the verse in the New Testament which says,
“Forgiving each other: as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”
Jesus’ forgiveness in their lives gave them ability to turn around and forgive a murderer.
Unfortunately, in our culture there are a lot of negative images associated with faith. Our movies and TV shows portray faith as a thing which turns people into monsters. In Quentin Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained we meet one of the Brittle brothers with Bible verses safety-pinned to his overalls whipping a slave. Thankfully Django stops him before he can follow through with it. But the impression left on the audience is that Christian faith leads to racism and violence. Yet compare that image with the one we are confronted with here in South Carolina. It is clear for these people Christian faith led them to forgiveness and mercy, even in the face of racism and violence.
The power to forgive others is a gift that has taken hold of many hearts and many homes where faith in Jesus is central. You can see it in the outpouring of forgiveness the Amish community showed in 2007 when a man went into their school house and killed their children. NPR reported that, “People around the world have been inspired by the way the Amish expressed forgiveness toward the killer and his family” Their forgiveness went so far as to inspire them to donate money to the killer’s widow and his three children. The forgiveness the Amish showed was similar to what we see in the case of Dylann Roof. It is a remarkable piece of evidence that should cause us to pause and ponder.
You can also see power to forgive others surfacing in the life of Corrie Ten Boom who survived the Nazi concentration camps. After the war, Cori encountered one of the guards from Ravensbruck concentration camp where her sister had died. She and her sister had been sent there for hiding Jews in their home. He came up to speak to her after a public speech she gave on forgiveness. She writes,
“I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze…
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do….
Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”
As you consider evidence that makes Christian faith both rational and believable don’t overlook this claim that it gives power for people to forgive others.
Isn’t this an interesting claim? And aren’t these astonishing examples of the human capacity for mercy and forgiveness. If Christianity is just wishful thinking based on blind faith, then how would you explain the power these peoples have found to forgive?
Of course it’s true people can be forgiving without knowing Jesus, but Christian faith makes forgiveness much more plausible. Indeed, thanks to Jesus, beginning 2019 without bitterness is possible for anyone and everyone.
In 2019 isn’t this something you would like more of in your life?
(If you find yourself in Cori Ten Boom’s shoes, needing practical help on how to forgive someone who has wronged you, try reading Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 or listen to Tim Keller’s Sermon: Forgiving and Forgiveness. You can also download these Steps to forgiving others)
 Luke 7:48-50
 Acts 10:43
 The Huffington Post, “Victims’ families meet Dylann Roof: I forgive you and have mercy on your soul” Huffingtonpost.com https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/19/dylann-roof-family_n_7623252.html (last accessed 12/1/2018)
 Colossians 3:13
 National Public Radio “Amish forgive school shooter: struggle with grief” NPR.org https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14900930?storyId=14900930 (last accessed 12/1/2018)
 Terri Roberts, Forgiven: The Amish school shooting, a mother’s love, and a story of remarkable grace, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2015).
 Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, (Ohio: Barbour, 1971).
 Corrie Ten Boom, “I’m still learning to forgive” Guideposts, November, 1972, https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/guideposts-classics-corrie-ten-boom-on-forgiveness